OUR MOST PRECIOUS RESOURCES, BLOOD SACRIFICES ON THE ALTAR OF EVIL MEN'S LUST AND GREED FOR POWER, MONEY, AND EMPIRE. THEY ARE NUMBERS ON STATISTICAL RECORDS, NAMES ON GRAVESTONES, BUT TO US AND ALL THAT KNEW AND LOVED THEM, THEY ARE PRECIOUS RESOURCES - THE SONS AND DAUGHTERS OF AMERICA.
# Robert Fisk: The only lesson we ever learn is that we never learn
# Patrick Cockburn: This is the war that started with lies, and continues with lie after lie after lie
By PAULINE JELINEK, Associated Press Writer Thu Jan 31, 5:43 PM ET
WASHINGTON - Multiple new efforts aimed at stemming suicides in the Army are falling short of their goal: The service anticipates another jump in the annual number of soldiers who killed themselves or tried to, including in the Iraq and Afghanistan war zones.
As many as 121 soldiers committed suicide in 2007, an increase of some 20 percent over 2006, according to preliminary figures released Thursday.
The number who tried to commit suicide or injured themselves for some other reason jumped six-fold in the last several years — from 350 in 2002 to about 2,100 incidents last year. Officials said an unknown portion of that increase was likely due to use of a new electronic tracking system that is more thorough in capturing health data than the previous system.
The increases come despite a host of efforts to improve the mental health of a force that has been stressed by lengthy and repeated deployments to the longer-than-expected war in Iraq, and the most deadly year yet in the now six-year-old conflict in Afghanistan.
"We have been perturbed by the rise despite all of our efforts," said Col. Elspeth Ritchie, psychiatry consultant to the Army surgeon general.
Those efforts include more training and education programs, the hiring of more mental health professionals and the addition of screening programs launched after a succession of studies found the military's peacetime health care system overwhelmed by troops coming home from the two foreign wars.
"We know we've been doing a lot of training and education," Ritchie told a Pentagon press conference. "Clearly we need to be doing more."
The preliminary figures on 2007 show that among active duty soldiers and National Guard and Reserve troops that have been activated there were 89 confirmed suicides and 32 deaths that are suspected suicides but still under investigation.
Less than a third of those who committed suicide — about 34 — happened during deployments in Iraq. That compared with 27 in Iraq the previous year. Four were confirmed in Afghanistan compared with three there in 2006.
The total of 121, if all are confirmed, would be more than double the 52 reported in 2001, before the Sept. 11 attacks prompted the Bush administration to launch its counter-terror war. The toll was 87 by 2005 and 102 in 2006.
Officials said the rate of suicides per 100,000 active duty soldiers has not yet been calculated for 2007. The 2006 toll of 102 translated to a rate of 17.5 per 100,000, the highest since the Army started counting in 1980, officials said. The rate has fluctuated over those years, with the low being 9.1 per 100,000 in 2001.
That toll and rate for 2006 is a revision from figures released in August. Officials earlier had reported that 99 soldiers had killed themselves in 2006 and two cases were pending — as opposed to the 102 now all confirmed. It's common for investigations to take time and for officials to study results at length before releasing them publicly.
Ritchie said Thursday, as she did last year, that officials are finding that failed personal relationships are the main motive for the suicides, followed by legal and financial problems as well as job-related difficulties.
Long and repeated tours of duty away from home contribute significantly in that they weigh heavily on family relations and compound the other problems, officials said.
"People don't tend to suicide as a direct result of combat," Ritchie said. "But the frequent deployments strain relationships. And strained relations and divorce are definitely related to increased suicide."
With the Army stretched thin by years of fighting the two wars, the Pentagon last year extended normal tours of duty from 12 months to 15 months and has sent some troops back to the wars several times. The Army has been hoping to reduce tour lengths this summer. But the prospect could depend heavily on what Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, recommends when he gives his assessment of security in Iraq and troop needs to Congress in April.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a leading critic of the treatment given returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, called the new figures "heart-wrenching."
"Until they come to grips with how long and frequent deployments are straining soldiers and shattering lives we will continue to see this frightening trend," she said.
"And as the White House signals that there won't be any further troop cuts beyond July, there is dwindling hope that things will turn around soon," she said.
Because of improved security in Iraq in recent months, the administration has started to draw down extra troops sent last year. But Bush and commanders have been indicating reluctance to continue cuts beyond July out of fear the fragile security gains could be lost.
SAN FRANCISCO - A federal court in San Francisco has cleared the way for a major national class action lawsuit on behalf of veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The federal Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) had sought to dismiss the lawsuit claiming that the groups bringing the suit, Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth, were simply “advocacy organizations” and did not have standing to sue on behalf of the estimated 320,000 to 800,000 service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with cases of PTSD.
“We won this round against VA. Veterans will have our day in court,” the director of Veterans for Common Sense Paul Sullivan said in a statement. “The VA must now release documents under discovery about their deliberate attempts to deny and delay medical care and disability benefits for all veterans, especially our Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans.”
“The decision is vitally important,” added Melissa Kasnitz, an attorney with the Berkeley, California based non-profit Disability Rights Advocates, which along with the law firm Morrison and Forrester is representing the veterans groups. “It allows the case to move forward toward trial.”
“We want the government to ensure that veterans get prompt care and that the VA disability claims process is fair and run in a timely fashion,” she added.
The complaint, filed in federal court in July, sought a Judge’s order finding that VA’s system of handling disability claims and appeals is so dysfunctional that it violates veterans’ constitutional and statutory rights. The suit also calls for court orders requiring VA to provide immediate medical and psychological help to returning troops and to screen them for risk of suicide.
The VA now has a backlog of over 600,000 applications for claims, and a decision on a claim can take up to 12 years to be processed through appeals. According to data obtained in November by McClatchy Newspapers, veterans must wait an average of 183 days for a claim to be decided.
A CBS news investigation released last November found that 120 veterans kill themselves every week; or over 6,000 per year.
CBS asked all 50 states for their suicide data, based on death records for veterans and non-veterans, and found that veterans were twice as likely to commit suicide.
In 2005, CBS found a total of at least 6,256 suicides among those who served in the armed forces. The Veterans groups suing the VA contend the long wait for health care and disability care through the government system contribute to the large number of suicides.
In his 42-page ruling allowing the class action suit to go forward, U.S. District Court Judge Samuel Conti wrote that the federal system for weighing individual veterans’ claims “does not provide an adequate alternative remedy for Plaintiffs’ claims,” but stopped short of ruling on the merits of the claims themselves.
The VA declined comment on the Conti decision, but issued a statement saying it is “dedicated to meeting the mental health care needs of all veterans.” It noted an increase in its mental health care staff and creation of new programs to treat returning soldiers.
But veterans groups aren’t convinced and will be back in court February 22.
“We are seeking an immediate order from the court to force the government to stop turning away veterans who are suicidal,” attorney Kasnitz said. “Also, Congress has appropriated money to the VA to help Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans but the money hasn’t been spent. We are asking the court to force the VA to stop impounding the money.”
By LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press Writer Thu Jan 17, 5:38 PM ET
WASHINGTON - As security conditions improve in Iraq, the U.S. should be able to reduce forces at a slow but consistent pace beyond this summer, but air support and ground troops likely will be needed for five to 10 years, a top military commander said Thursday.
Army Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, the No. 2 commander in Iraq, also said he believes Iraqi forces will be able to take over security in their country much quicker than they have suggested.
"What we don't want to do is suddenly pull out a whole bunch of U.S. forces and suddenly turn things over to ... the Iraqi security forces," said Odierno, who will finish his tour in Iraq next month and return to Fort Hood, Texas.
"I would like to see it done very slowly over time. And I think if we do that, we'll find ourselves being more successful and we'll be able to have a consistent reduction of our forces over time."
Odierno, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other military leaders have been loath to predict troop reductions beyond this summer, when the number of U.S. brigades in Iraq will drop to 15. There were 20 brigades there for the last six months of 2007, but one has left and the other four will leave by July. That would bring U.S. troop totals down to about 130,000.
On Thursday, Gates said he still hopes that the "pace of the drawdowns in the first half of the year will continue in the second half of the year." But he stressed that it depends on the evaluation of conditions there by Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.
Asked about Gates' expressed hope, Odierno said he first wants to see the effects of the reduction of forces now under way. "We're now at 19 brigades — going to 18, 17, 16, 15. I feel comfortable that we'll be able to maintain the security, but I would like to make sure that that works," he said.
Odierno also cited Mosul as an example of how the U.S. will gradually take on more of an oversight and support role, as Iraqi forces take the lead.
"I see what we're doing in Mosul as a model for the future," he said. "When we reduce our forces over time and the Iraqis take primacy for security, we will be here to assist them when they need it."
Mosul has seen persistent problems with violence, as insurgents driven out of Baghdad and its surrounding neighborhoods have fled north. And while the totals have not been determined, Odierno said the U.S. may add some combat power there, and over time would maintain enough troops to reinforce the Iraqis.
Showing a series of charts, Odierno also mapped out dramatic declines in attacks, casualties and the level of violence across the country, but particularly around Baghdad. And he showed two maps that depicted a significant decline in al-Qaida strongholds between December 2006 and one year later.
Odierno disagreed with Iraqi contentions that they won't be able to take over responsibility for internal security until 2012, or fully defend their borders until at least 2018.
"I would just say at the levels we're supporting them now, I do not see that going that far at all. I mean, I see it happening much quicker," he said. He added that as the Iraqis assume more control, he does not see a need to increase the number of U.S. troops to provide logistical and other support for the Iraqis.
Lt. Gen. James Dubik, head of the Multi-National Security Transition Command, told a House panel Thursday that Iraq's security forces are on track to add another 80,000 personnel by the end of the year, putting them well within reach of their goal of more than 600,000.
But he also cautioned that they are far from becoming self-sufficient.
There are "positive signs, indeed, and steps forward, but the truth is that they simply cannot fix, supply, arm or fuel themselves completely enough at this point," Dubik told the House Armed Services Committee.
Dubik said the Iraqis have used the 2012 and 2018 dates, and repeatedly insist that they need to buy more air and fire support, helicopters and logistics equipment. Those purchases will likely take several years, and training Iraqi soldiers and other personnel on the new equipment will take more time after that, he said.
In advance of an industry summit in Dubai next month, Iraq defense minister Abdul-Qader al-Obeidi has released a wish list that includes ground vehicles, helicopters, tanks, artillery and armored personnel carriers.
Last year, the U.S. spent about $5.5 billion to train and equip Iraqi security forces, while the Iraqis designated $7.5 billion. Mark Kimmitt, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East, said he expects the Iraqis will devote $9 billion this year to the effort and the U.S. will contribute $3 billion.
Rep. Ike Skelton, the Democratic chairman of the panel, said he is worried that while Iraqi forces get up to speed, U.S. troops will become worn out.
"Security in Iraq has improved over the past year, due to the heroic efforts of our troops. ... But the question now is how do we sustain it?" Skelton asked.
Associated Press writers Anne Flaherty and Pauline Jelinek contributed to this report.
By LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 22 minutes ago
WASHINGTON - About 3,200 Marines are being told to prepare to go to Afghanistan, military officials said Monday, in an effort to boost combat troop levels and get ready for an expected Taliban offensive this spring.
Once complete, the deployment would increase U.S. forces in Afghanistan to as much as 30,000, the highest level since the 2001 invasion after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The military began notifying the Marines and their families over the weekend, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates was expected to sign the formal deployment orders. It was not clear Monday whether the orders had been signed yet.
The proposal went to Gates on Friday, and while he told reporters that afternoon that he had some questions about the move, there has been every indication he was poised to approve it.
According to officials, 2,200 members of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., will go to Afghanistan, as well as about 1,000 members of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, which is based at Twentynine Palms, Calif.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the deployment announcement has not yet been made. If approved, the deployment to southern Afghanistan would be a "one-time, seven-month" assignment, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said Friday.
The 2nd Battalion, which is from the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, is an infantry unit, and it will be used largely for training Afghan forces.
The decision to increase U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan represents a shift in Pentagon thinking that has been slowly developing in recent months. Commanders faced with increasing violence have said they need as many as 7,500 more troops, but Gates initially pressed for other NATO nations to fill the void.
NATO countries, however, faced public opposition to deeper involvement there and were slow to respond, leaving Gates to acknowledge recently that the U.S. may have to consider providing the extra combat troops.
Currently, there are about 27,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, including 14,000 with the NATO-led coalition. The other 13,000 U.S. troops are training Afghan forces and hunting al-Qaida terrorists.
Afghanistan Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammed Zahir Azimi said last week that the deployment would help combat Taliban insurgents. But Azimi added the long-term solution was to boost the fighting strength of Afghanistan's own army.
[WA: Bush has consistently ignored any intel that did not fit his aims and goals. He is determined to follow his, the Fundies, and the neocons strategy to provoke WWIII, gain world control, and establish a theocratic dictatorship. And as always, the tail continues to wag the dog as the US curries favor with Israel.]]
Bush Disowns U.S. Intel, Tells Israelis Iran NIE "Doesn’t Reflect My Views"
But in private conversations with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert last week, the president all but disowned the document, said a senior administration official who accompanied Bush on his six-nation trip to the Mideast. "He told the Israelis that he can't control what the intelligence community says, but that [the NIE's] conclusions don't reflect his own views" about Iran's nuclear-weapons program, said the official, who would discuss intelligence matters only on the condition of anonymity.
Bush had reportedly briefed Olmert about the Iran NIE days before it was publicly released in late November. The New Yorker's Seymour Hersh said, "The Israelis were very upset about the report. They think we're naive, they don't think we get it right. And so they have a different point of view."
But after his private meetings with Bush this week, Olmert -- asked whether he felt reassured -- replied, "I am very happy."
UPDATE: Speaking in the United Arab Emirates, Bush said the United States and Arab allies must join together to confront the danger of Iran "before it's too late."
Spadoman's Peace vigilers. Spadoman started the Peace Vigils about a year ago in his hometown in Wisconsin. In the winter the weather is very cold and the frigid wind coming off the lakes is brutal, yet the people persevere. Peaceful demonstrations for peace. Passive resistance?
Behind Blackwater: An Interview With Jeremy Scahill
The dangers behind Blackwater's rise to power have not been told among the hours of coverage by the mainstream media, so Truthout's Geoff Millard sat down with Jeremy Scahill, author of a new book on the mercenary firm. In this interview, Scahill delves deep into the real dangers of a private mercenary army as powerful as Blackwater.
Suddenly, on that May day in 2005, the copter dropped CS gas, a riot-control substance the American military in Iraq can use only under the strictest conditions and with the approval of top military commanders. An armored vehicle on the ground also released the gas, temporarily blinding drivers, passers-by and at least 10 American soldiers operating the checkpoint.
"This was decidedly uncool and very, very dangerous," Capt. Kincy Clark of the Army, the senior officer at the scene, wrote later that day. "It's not a good thing to cause soldiers who are standing guard against car bombs, snipers and suicide bombers to cover their faces, choke, cough and otherwise degrade our awareness."
They're going to need all the good p.r. they can get.
In the past two years the US media have drastically reduced their coverage of Afghanistan. According to the American Journalism Review only three news organizations--Newsweek, Associated Press and the Washington Post--have full-time reporters stationed in Kabul. What little is published focuses mostly on feel-good stories, superficial change and unopposed reportage of the Bush administration's claims. There is little to no critical coverage of the effects of the on-going US military and political presence. For example, on March 18th, the New York Times' Joel Brinkley and Carlotta Gall reported Condoleezza Rice's visit to Afghanistan and her claim that "there could be no better story than Afghanistan's democratic development". Brinkley and Gall apparently agreed with Rice they made no mention of how the central government is legitimizing US-backed warlords who are stifling democracy.
This is not new. In the early 1990s, the worst atrocities by Mujahadeen fighters (including some members of the current government) resulted in tens of thousands of civilian deaths and hundreds of thousands of refugees in a four year period in Kabul alone. During that time, media coverage dropped drastically. In the late 1990s, when the Taliban were implementing their oppressive laws, the media largely ignored it. In 2000, when tens of thousands of Afghan refugees were trapped in horrific conditions in refugee camps in the Pakistani side of the border, the same pattern of silence continued. Only when the Buddha statues of Bamiyan were blown up, or the attacks of 9-11 took place was Afghanistan worth focusing on.
Why don't the media today examine Afghanistan and Bush's claims of "freedom and democracy"? True, most Afghans have embraced wholeheartedly the promise of choosing their own leaders through an electoral system, despite having certain aspects of democracy imposed on them by a foreign country. But the power of undemocratic warlords has stifled the aspirations of Afghan people. When I visited Afghanistan a month ago, I spoke with independent pro-democracy political activists like Malalai Joya, who is forced to conduct her work underground. Fearing attacks by warlords, they use false names and travel in disguise or with bodyguards. I met journalists who are risking their lives to report the crimes of the warlords in the face of government threats.
A majority of Afghans voted for Hamid Karzai, even though he is clearly a US puppet. They did so because he promised never to compromise with warlords. But after his election, Karzai appointed the former governor of Herat, Ismail Khan, a fundamentalist misogynist warlord, as Minister of Energy. Karzai recently appointed a known war criminal, Abdul Rashid Dostum, as the National Army Chief of Staff. These moves were praised by US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad as "wise", even though the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission's recent survey revealed a deep desire among Afghans across the country for justice for past war crimes committed by the likes of Khan and Dostum. The Afghans I met were eager to see the warlords disarmed, and prosecuted, not rewarded with government positions.
Aside from its "democratic development", the Bush administration refuses to mention serious life-and-death issues plaguing Afghanistan. Obediently following suit, the US media do not cover the struggle for survival. In the 2004 National Human Development Report for Afghanistan, conducted by the United Nations, the country ranked 173 out of 178 countries in terms of human development. Only five countries, all in sub-Saharan Africa, were worse off: Burundi, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Sierra Leone. Refugees, whose (sometimes forced) return was loudly praised by the Bush administration as evidence of Afghan freedom, are now homeless in their own country and have turned parts of Kabul into squatters' camps. They have no homes and little to no training, employment opportunities, or health care. Maternal mortality, especially in the provinces where the majority of Afghans live, is among the highest in the world, just as it was before 9-11 when the media were ignoring Afghanistan. Education - most vocally cited by the Bush administration as a measure of the success of US policy in Afghanistan - is deemed the "worst in the world" by the UN. Outside Kabul there are dismally few educational opportunities for Afghan girls and women. In the cities, I was told that most schools have a curriculum limited to Islamic studies.
Most women are still wearing the burqa (veil), or hijab, in Afghanistan. This is admittedly far too simplistic a measure of women's oppression, but it was exploited by the Bush administration and the media after 9-11 to visualize the brutality of the Taliban against women. Likewise, the discarding of the burqa after the fall of the Taliban was widely used by the media to showcase women's "liberation". Today in the cities and provinces outside Kabul, most women dress exactly as they did under the Taliban's rule. Nasreen, an 18 year old returned refugee living in Heart, told me she does not want to wear her hijab, but is afraid of attracting too much attention in an atmosphere that is still hostile to women.
There is an obvious pattern here: before 9-11 the media did not deem Afghanistan and its myriad problems (most of which were initiated by US policies in the 80s and 90s) worth covering. After 9-11, when it was convenient for the Bush administration to highlight mass oppression and poverty as justifications for war, the media complied. Now, despite continued mass oppression and poverty, Bush and Rice have informed us that Afghanistan has been "saved" by our military intervention and installation of "democracy" and so it no longer needs our attention. The media continue to comply with government wishes.
The very people that Americans compassionately and generously supported after 9-11 are suffering once more because of a lack of attention and interest. Donations toward life-saving projects like hospitals, clinics, schools and training centers, have plummeted. Armed militias led by US-backed warlords have replaced the Taliban, financing their armies through heroin sales. In the short term, this compliance has had tangible consequences for the people of Afghanistan. In the long term, the lack of media coverage of the rise of these armed groups could once again have horrible and shocking consequences, like the attacks of 9-11.
Sonali Kolhatkar is co-producer and host of Uprising, a morning drive-time radio program on KPFK Pacifica Radio in Los Angeles.
You can contact the major media using an easy tool on our website, www.afghanwomensmission.org, and urge them to increase and improve their coverage of Afghanistan (sample letter provided).
Our son, LTC Dominic Rocky Baragona 42, was killed on May 19th 2003 in Iraq...Rocky's Humvee was crushed when a KGL truckdriver, playing road tag with Rocky's Humvee, lost control, and jack-knifed into Rocky's vehicle killing him instantly...The Army's 15-6 report found KGL negligent and totaly responsible for the accident...KGL has countless of contracts with the U.S. Army's Dept. of Defense, and is required by law to give a full report whenever an accident takes place... Senator Mike DeWine personally spoke to Kuwaiti's Ambassador and Prime Minister about this matter and we continue to be ignored...We filed a report with the Dept of Defense and they threatened to have KGL debarred from any futher contracts unless they came to the table...Not to be undone, KGL hired the former head of the DOD, a Brig. General, to represent them...He has brought everything to a halt arguing we have no jurisdiction...Meanwhile, KGL continues to do millions of dollars worth of business with the Dept. of Defense... Rocky was right in the middle of seven children...As the family grew older, he was the hub in the wheel that got the siblings together for all the major holidays..As his father, I sorrowly miss our countless political discussions and especially our talks about the war..Rocky is buried in Arlington, and because Washington is visited so often, gets plenty of visitors... Sadly missed by Mom, Dad, brothers and sisters...
--Dominic Baragona, The Villages, FL (submitted on April 28, 2007)
No-Show Iraqi Contractor Hit With $4.9M Default Judgment
Ga. federal judge directed thorough analysis of Iraqi law after Kuwaiti company ignored suit for two years
When Lt. Col. Dominic R. Baragona died in a traffic accident on an Iraqi highway in 2003, few would have foreseen that his death would prompt a federal judge in Atlanta to levy a $4.9 million judgment against a U.S. military contractor in Kuwait.
Baragona was killed when a tractor-trailer rig owned by Kuwait & Gulf Link Transport Co. struck the Humvee in which he was riding on May 19, 2003, as he was leaving Iraq to return home. He became, at that time, the highest-ranking military officer to die during the United States' 2003 invasion of Iraq. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
The legal battle that followed Baragona's death sought to hold the Kuwaiti company, under contract to the U.S. military, financially liable for the Army officer's accidental death. Filed by Baragona's parents, Dominic F. and Vilma Baragona of Florida, on behalf of their son's estate, the case eventually involved Washington lawyers (one a former staff attorney for U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and the other a former brigadier general in the Army Judge Advocate General's Corps); the chief investigative judge in the trial of Saddam Hussein who was later spirited out of Iraq for his own safety; and President Bush.
The wrongful death case, which found its way into the federal courtroom of U.S. District Judge William S. Duffey Jr. of the Northern District of Georgia (a former officer in the Air Force Judge Advocate General's Corps), has become a national case of first impression regarding the responsibilities of a foreign military contractor when an employee's negligence results in an American soldier's death, said Steven R. Perles, a Washington attorney who represents the Baragona family.
Perles, a former staff attorney for Sen. Stevens, has an international litigation boutique in Washington that specializes in representing the estates of U.S. citizens killed in terrorist attacks abroad.
During two years of litigation in Atlanta, Duffey established that Georgia was a legitimate venue to seek damages against KGL for Baragona's death in Iraq. The judge directed a thorough analysis of Iraqi law before he awarded a $4.9 million default judgment to Baragona's parents after KGL for two years either ignored or failed to accept service of the suit.
"This case is very important and is going to have far-reaching implications," Perles said of Duffey's ruling. "It's the first time any U.S. government contractor has behaved so badly under these circumstances that it had to be sued as a result."
Defendant Kuwait & Gulf Link Transport Co., which transports supplies into Iraq, is one of the U.S. military's largest contractors in the Middle East, Perles said. The company, he said, has $100 million a year in Army contracts and also handles subcontracts for military contractors such as Halliburton Inc. and Kellogg, Brown & Root, Perles said.
KGL handles shipping, warehousing and ports management for military organizations worldwide, oil and shipping companies, general contractors and construction firms. In 2006, the company reported revenue of $182.7 million and a net income of $90.7 million, according to BusinessWeek. Since the beginning of the Iraq war in 2003, its annual net profits have nearly quadrupled.
"They are one of three or four contractors who have been the primary beneficiaries of the war," he said. "Almost every piece of military cargo that lands in the Persian Gulf and is trucked up to Iraq is hauled by this company."
KGL driver Mahmoud Muhammed Hessain Serour -- described as an Egyptian national in his 60s -- was driving a tractor-trailer rig on a three-lane highway in Iraq when the truck hit a pile of concrete debris in the right-hand lane and jack-knifed, according to the federal complaint.
At the time, the tractor-trailer rig had drawn alongside a three-vehicle convoy that included Baragona, who was en route to Kuwait and then to the United States on leave, according to the complaint. The lieutenant colonel's convoy had steered clear of the debris and was traveling in the far left lane. But the tractor-trailer, in attempting to avoid the debris, swerved, jack-knifed, crossed two lanes of traffic and collided with Baragona's Humvee, the complaint stated.
Baragona was thrown from the Humvee, although witnesses said he was wearing a seatbelt. KGL's driver survived and was transported to a coalition hospital for treatment before he returned to Egypt. An Army investigation subsequently determined that the driver's negligence caused the accident and Baragona's death, according to the complaint.
Perles said that military contractors such as KGL are required by the U.S. government to carry liability insurance. "It's mandatory," the lawyer said. "No insurance, no contract."
As a result, he said, a contractor found to have been negligent normally resolves damage claims through its insurer. "This company was very unusual. It went in the opposite direction," Perles said. "This kind of temerity among government contractors is unheard of ... They told us in no uncertain terms they were untouchable."
It was KGL's extensive financial ties from 1997 through at least 2005 via its military contracts with the Army at Fort McPherson that allowed Perles, on behalf of the Baragonas, to establish jurisdiction in Georgia for the litigation. In late 2005, after the case was filed in Atlanta, the Supreme Court of Georgia issued an opinion dramatically expanding prior precedent that had restricted the reach of Georgia's long-arm statute (establishing jurisdiction over nonresidents in civil litigation who owned property in Georgia or conducted "any business" in the state) to contract claims.
In that case, Innovative Clinical & Consulting Services v. First National Bank of Ames, Iowa, 279 Ga. 672; 620 S.E. 2d 352 (Ga. 2005), the state Supreme Court determined that the Georgia courts have "unlimited authority to exercise personal jurisdiction over any nonresident who transacts any business" in Georgia and that Innovative Clinical overruled all prior cases that failed to offer "the appropriate breadth."
Duffey subsequently determined that the Baragonas could sue KGL in Georgia.
The key to determining jurisdiction was whether KGL did business in Georgia, Perles said. "My view," he said, "is that if you do $800 million in business out of Fort McPherson, Georgia, that's a very significant interaction with the forum." Those contracts have provided for transport and cargo services for the Third U.S. Army in Iraq, according to a court pleading.
Perles added that if the U.S. Army had discovered that KGL had engaged in any kind of procurement fraud, those charges would have been prosecuted in federal court in Georgia under the terms of the military contracts KGL signed. KGL, he said, "had the expectation that if anything went wrong, they could well be hauled into court here."
DROWNED IN DUE PROCESS
Despite Duffey's ruling, KGL ignored the Baragona suit, three times refused service and refused to make an appearance in the case, Perles said. Baragona said that the mechanism set up through the Hague Convention of 1965 on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil or Commercial Matters to serve foreign court papers, and a second attempt at service through the Kuwaiti Ministry of Justice, failed to prompt an answer from KGL.
Perles said he also sent a consultant to Kuwait to meet privately with officials at KGL. The response, he said, was brusque: "We are a Kuwaiti company. We are untouchable. We are not even going to have a conversation with you. Goodbye."
Duffey himself became involved in trying to serve KGL's chairman through the district court clerk in Atlanta after Perles' lawyer learned that under Kuwaiti law, judges, not attorneys, serve the suits initiating litigation.
Perles said that FedEx delivered the suit from the U.S. Clerk of Court in Atlanta to KGL's chairman in Kuwait. "The report back from FedEx, 'We served it. The chairman refused to open it,'" he said.
Perles said that, at Duffey's request, he also tried to serve the suit on KGL through retired Army Brig. Gen. Richard J. Bednar, now senior counsel at Crowell & Moring in Washington. But Bednar, who did not enter an appearance in the federal case in Atlanta, refused service, Perles said.
Bednar was served with the Baragona suit at Duffey's suggestion after KGL's director of legal affairs suggested in a 2006 letter to the Army's procurement fraud branch that Bednar was providing counsel to KGL, according to Perles.
"When this company ignored service, Judge Duffey went a long way out of his way to give them actual notice of the proceedings," Perles said. "Much more than the law required him to do. It was an exercise in drowning someone in due process."
Duffey eventually entered a default judgment against KGL, but not before Perles said the judge began, in the absence of a defense, to raise issues that the defendants themselves might have raised had they participated in the litigation.
"The effect of that was rather than conduct an ordinary default, we conducted a trial in absentia," Perles said, with Duffey "doubling as judge and adversary ... By being both judge and adversary, he forced us to craft what I think is a really bullet-proof proceeding."
As a result, Perles said, "It's going to be much more difficult for KGL to try to get this [judgment] set aside than if it had been treated as an ordinary default."
Perles said that Duffey also required him to provide the court with an analysis of Iraqi law and whether conflicts existed with Georgia law regarding the Baragona family's negligence claims against KGL.
UNDERSTANDING IRAQI LAW
Duffey eventually determined that five days before Baragona was killed in Iraq, the Coalition Provisional Authority had declared itself to be the governing authority in Iraq. At that time, the provisional authority declared that the laws then existing in Iraq remained in force, which, the judge concluded, included the law of civil damages that would apply to the Baragonas' claim, according to one order.
That section of the Iraqi Civil Code provided that "every person has the right of passage on the public road provided he (observes) the safety (precautions) so that he will not cause injury to a third party ..."
"Although there was a period of significant unrest and confusion between the fall of Saddam Hussein and the rise of the CPA [Coalition Provisional Authority], this unrest indicates a breakdown in enforcement, not the absence of laws," Duffey wrote. "The Court understands the CPA regulation to adopt Iraqi civil law as it existed under Saddam Hussein at the end of his reign."
But Duffey also required the plaintiffs to determine whether Iraqi law permitted the recovery for wrongful death as well as injury, permitted the parents of the victim to recover those damages and established any parameters for damage awards. To answer those questions, Perles said he recruited Judge Raid Juhi Hamadi Al-Saedi, the chief investigative judge for the Iraqi High Tribunal who referred the first cases against Saddam Hussein to the adjudicating court in Baghdad that led to Hussein's death sentence and execution.
Perles also enlisted the aid of Dr. Abdullah F. Ansary, a Saudi professor of law with degrees from Harvard University and the University of Virginia School of Law. The two Iraqi legal scholars agreed that Iraqi law permitted damages for wrongful death, permitted recovery by the parents, particularly the mother, of the deceased, and gave the court wide latitude in ascertaining damages, according to court filings.
The two scholars also noted that the Iraqi courts, like the Georgia courts, may hold employers liable for damages from injuries caused by their employees' negligence, according to their report.
Following a damages hearing in April, Duffey established that the economic loss from Baragona's death ranged from $3.9 million to $8.1 million, according to one order. Duffey settled on $4.9 million.
ENFORCING THE JUDGMENT
Perles said that even though KGL is in Kuwait, and has, so far, failed to participate in the litigation that ended in the judgment, he believes he will collect from the Kuwaiti firm. Perles said that KGL has also become the subject of a federal inquiry by the U.S. Army stemming from a private meeting that President Bush had with the Baragona family after their son was killed.
Military contractors may be barred from doing business with the federal government, including its military branches, for fraudulent misconduct, violation of antitrust statutes, dishonesty or a lack of integrity, according to the JAG Corps Army fraud fighters Web site. Debarment -- which may be based upon a criminal conviction, a civil judgment or a preponderance of the evidence -- severely restrict the ability of a company to be considered for government contracting business for as long as three years.
Perles said that the Baragonas, who were living in Ohio when their son was killed, appealed to then-U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, for help. On the Baragonas' behalf, DeWine filed complaints with the U.S. State Department and Kuwait's ambassador to the United States, whom he met at a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee coffee.
After the Kuwaiti ambassador gave DeWine "the brush-off," Perles said DeWine complained to President Bush, who arranged to meet with the Baragonas while on a swing through Ohio. At that meeting, at a local Wendy's, the Baragonas told the president that KGL had stonewalled them and asked him to initiate debarment proceedings against the military contractor, Perles said. The president promised the family he would, and then did so, Perles said.
On Sept. 22, 2006, the chief of the Army's procurement fraud branch issued a show-cause letter to KGL as to why it should not be debarred from doing business with the Army command, according to court documents.
In an Oct. 18, 2006, reply that is included in court files in Atlanta, Ahmed Afifi, director of legal affairs at KGL in Kuwait, asserted that KGL and firm Chairman Saeed Esmail Dashti "strongly disagree" with allegations made in connection with the Atlanta litigation. The letter insisted that neither KGL nor its executive had ever "taken steps to frustrate the lawful delivery of court documents in connection with that lawsuit" and that the Baragonas' attempts to serve the suit on KGL had been flawed.
"KGL would like to assure your office that KGL did not frustrate or delay the lawful service of the relevant court documents," Afifi wrote, adding that conforming KGL's "conduct to its national and international law regarding service of process is not a basis to consider debarment proceedings ... In the meantime, KGL will continue to support the government of the United States of America and its representatives overseas."
Afifi referred all further questions to Bednar, the Army's former chief debarment officer, according to his letter.
Last week, Bednar said he is not currently doing any legal work for KGL. He said that he did look into the matter after the Army issued its show-cause letter complaining about KGL's apparent refusal to accept service of the suit. "I wrote back and explained there was a flawed attempt to deliver [the suit] in Kuwait ... We provided information on how it could be perfected ... That was the only issue on the table."
"As far as I know, that matter is closed," Bednar added. "I answered the letter. We've never heard back ... There was never a debarment proceeding. The company was never suspended. It was never proposed for debarment. It was never debarred."
Bednar said that other than the show-cause letter, he didn't recall whether KGL has been a client. "I have hundreds of clients," he said. If he has done work for KGL, "it was not very extensive."
Perles said that after the Army issued the show-cause letter, it asked him to agree to a voluntary suspension of debarment proceedings until after Duffey decided the case. Perles agreed. After the judgment, the lawyer said he notified the Army of Duffey's decision. "As far as I'm concerned, it's [the debarment inquiry against KGL] open."
Perles said that if KGL faces the loss of its government contracts through debarment, it might consider paying the Baragonas' outstanding judgment as a way of mitigating any formal action by the Army. "If a government contractor engages in conduct that makes them unfit to be a contractor ... the hearing officer looks at all of it, including whether a contractor makes restitution," Perles said.
Perles said that he cannot lay claim to monies that the U.S. government may owe to KGL. But he may seek to attach funds that KGL is owed by American firms such as Kellogg, Brown & Root, under which KGL has subcontracted military business.
"I can't attach government funds sitting at Fort McPherson," he said. "If KGL got its money in Kuwait, via direct wire, I have no way of getting that. But if Fort McPherson gives Kellogg, Brown & Root another contract ... once it [the money] hits Kellogg, Brown & Root I can attach it ... We will find out where KGL does subcontracting, and we will issue writs of attachment. This judgment is going to get enforced."
The case is Baragona v. Kuwait & Gulf Link Transport, No. 1:05-cv-1267 (N.D. Ga.).
Raymond Calero, right, consoles his wife Roselle, center, as they pay their last respects during the burial service for their son, Major Jeffrey R. Calero, on Monday in Calverton, N.Y. Major Calero died Oct. 29 in Kajaki, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated while he was on dismounted patrol.
Mary Altaffer / AP file
Video: Focus on Afghanistan
How will history regard Hamid Karzai? Watch a profile of the Afghan president: A Westernized, secular, aristocratic leader regarded for his diplomacy, courtesy and ability to win over Western audiences.
The six deaths brings the number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan in 2007 to at least 101, according to a count by The Associated Press — the highest annual death toll for the American military here since it invaded to oust Taliban and al-Qaida fighters after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The war has evolved into an increasingly bloody counterinsurgency campaign.
‘Reminder of the sacrifices’ Three Afghan soldiers were also killed in Friday's ambush, while eight Americans and 11 Afghans were wounded. The battle produced the highest number of U.S. casualties — 14 — of any battles in Afghanistan this year, Accetta said.
"With Sunday being Veterans Day, this is a reminder of the sacrifices that our troops and our Afghan partners make for the peace and stability of the Afghan people," Accetta said, referring to the holiday that will be observed in the United States on Sunday.
Violence in Afghanistan this year has been the deadliest since the Taliban's ouster. More than 5,800 people, mostly militants, have died so far this year in insurgency-related violence, according to an Associated Press count based on figures from Afghan and Western officials.
Airstrikes called in Fighter aircraft and troops using artillery or mortars at nearby outposts fired on the militants' positions, Accetta said. It wasn't immediately clear how many militants were involved in the ambush, he said.
Mohammad Daoud Nadim, Nuristan deputy police chief, said the ambush happened in the remote province's Waygal district, about 40 miles from the border with Pakistan, which militants are known to use as a sanctuary. Nadim said he had no information on any casualties among the militants.
Arabs and other foreign fighters from Chechnya and Uzbekistan are known to operate in the Nuristan region, but the region's governor, Tamin Nuristani, blamed the attack on Taliban militants.
Nuristani said the combined troops searched two houses after the meeting with village elders and were ambushed while walking back to their base.
Nuristan province has seen heavy fighting in recent months. Two U.S. soldiers were killed and 13 wounded by a militant ambush in July, while militants disguised in Afghan army uniforms wounded 11 U.S. troops and killed two Afghan soldiers in August.
The attack on Friday was the deadliest incident for U.S. troops in Afghanistan since a Chinook crashed in February in Zabul province, killing eight Americans. Officials ruled out enemy fire as the cause of that crash.
US reviews plans for Afghanistan as Taliban attacks rise
by Daphne Benoit Mon Dec 17, 10:29 PM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) - The Pentagon confirmed that the US military and its NATO partners were reviewing plans for Afghanistan, rocked by its bloodiest year since 2001 amid a fierce Taliban resurgence.
The sharp rise in violence in Afghanistan contrasts strongly with the improvement in security in Iraq, where some 160,000 US forces are concentrated.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates "encouraged NATO to take a longer range view on Afghanistan" during talks with ministers from eight NATO countries in Edinburgh last week, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters.
"As a result of that Centcom (US Central Command) will tell you they are reviewing their own Afghanistan plan," he said, adding "these are things that complement each other."
2007 was the bloodiest year in Afghanistan since the extremist Taliban were ousted from power in late 2001. The US has just 26,000 troops deployed there.
There were 77 suicide attacks just in the first six months -- about twice the number for the same period last year and 26 times higher than from January to June 2005, according to a United Nations survey. Toward the end of this year that figure had risen to around 140.
The New York Times reported Sunday that the United States had launched a thorough review of its military, economic and diplomatic strategy amid worries about the lack of progress.
Pressed by the US to contribute more to Afghanistan, NATO, which runs the 40,000-strong International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, is also reviewing ways to confront rising Taliban attacks, an Al-Qaeda resurgence and a bumper opium crop.
Asked about the reported US review, State Department spokesman Tom Casey downplayed the idea that a fundamental strategy review was underway.
"Look, my understanding is the administration is continuously reviewing its plans and efforts to implement our strategy for Afghanistan," Casey said.
"But I'm not aware that there is any effort to devise a new strategy as opposed to simply a continuing effort to implement the strategy that exists."
"There's an ongoing effort at implementing our strategy. And that certainly includes looking at our full range of diplomatic tools that are available, including reconstruction support and other kinds of efforts," he continued.
"But, again, that is different than at least the assertion I saw, which was that somehow there was a fundamental rethinking of the strategy or a review of the strategy with an eye toward changing it."
At the end of the Edinburgh talks, Gates told reporters the ministers agreed unanimously to draft a three- to five-year "strategic concept" laying out goals and benchmarks for the NATO mission in Afghanistan.
The United States would lead in formulating the plan with inputs from other countries in hopes that it will be embraced by the alliance as a whole at a summit in Bucharest early next year, he said.
Britain, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, Denmark, Romania, Estonia and the United States all have troops with ISAF's 11,000-strong command in southern Afghanistan, where insurgent violence has increased sharply over the past year.
But NATO has so far failed to provide three infantry battalions, some 3,000 trainers and 20 transport and attack helicopters promised by allies.
"There is no secret that some of the capabilities have been lacking and that we have been wanting to fill in, in order to achieve greater progress at a faster rate," a Pentagon spokesman said privately, before noting: "I don't know that I would call it a review of strategy."
The United States is also reportedly searching for an international coordinator to help synchronize all the efforts on Afghanistan.
Persistent rumors say British diplomat Paddy Ashdown, the former UN representative to Bosnia-Hercegovina in 2002-2005, could be tapped for the job.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said: "I can assure you that there are many people considering the situation in Afghanistan on an ongoing basis. They're constantly reviewing our posture."
But she denied that the same kind of major review was underway as happened over Iraq, which led to the deployment of an extra 30,000 troops to the country at the beginning of the year.